MLB Realignment: NFL Style Divisions and Expansion Could Work in Baseball

Daniel MorrillCorrespondent IJune 27, 2011

Reports are that MLB is considering realignment in order to generate fan interest. Increasing the number of playoff teams and shaking up divisions might conjure some interest in the country’s beleaguered pastime.

The NFL has already passed MLB as the country’s favorite professional sports league and continues to draw fans away from baseball.  People like the current NFL system.

So why not copy it?

Could it work for baseball?  Maybe.  It would not only take realignment, it would also take expansion.  32 MLB teams would allow for four divisions in each league, each with four teams.  Baseball could use the same seeding system that the NFL uses.  All four division leaders would get in the playoffs, along with two wild cards from each league.

The top two teams record wise in each league would get a first round playoff bye, while the bottom four playoff teams played in two three-game series.  The divisional, championship and World Series rounds would proceed as usual. 

The added playoff round would most likely mean that the regular season would need to be shortened.  Most likely, this wouldn’t hurt the sport—many fans lose interest in baseball due to the long regular season.

Below is a possible realignment that MLB could use.  The cardinal directions do not always lineup with where teams are located as much as one would like, but it doesn’t happen like that in the NFL either. 

In the proposed realignment, expansion teams would take homes in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas.  Baseball would be the first professional sport to enter either market, so there is no telling what the fan base would look like—but both spots have potential.  New Orleans and Indianapolis would be other possible logical homes for expansion teams.

AL East

  • Baltimore Orioles
  • Boston Red Sox
  • New York Yankees
  • Toronto Blue Jays


AL North

  • Chicago White Sox
  • Cleveland Indians
  • Detroit Tigers
  • Minnesota Twins


AL South

  • Houston Astros
  • Kansas City Royals
  • Tampa Bay Rays
  • Texas Rangers


AL West

  • Las Vegas (Expansion)
  • Los Angeles Angels
  • Oakland Athletics
  • Seattle Mariners


NL East

  • Atlanta Braves
  • New York Mets
  • Philadelphia Phillies
  • Pittsburgh Pirates


NL North

  • Chicago Cubs
  • Cincinnati Reds
  • Milwaukee Brewers
  • St. Louis Cardinals


NL South

  • Arizona Diamondbacks
  • Florida Marlins
  • Puerto Rico (Expansion)
  • Washington Nationals


NL West

  • Colorado Rockies
  • Los Angeles Dodgers
  • San Diego Padres
  • San Francisco Giants


While some divisions seem weaker than others now, that could all change in a few years.  All strong rivals remain in the same division, and the realignment might help to grow other natural rivalries between teams.

One major advantage of this realignment is the fact that three teams from one division can make the playoffs.  Even if a division becomes top heavy—as the AL East has been over the last decade—if a team in that division has a good enough record they can snag the second wild card, with the top two teams claiming the division and the first wild card. 

Adding four playoff teams and shrinking divisions will keep more teams in the playoff hunt for longer, which helps keep a fan base engaged throughout the entire season.

Unlike football, baseball teams only have a day at most to travel to their next game.  This might spell problems for a team like Arizona, which plays in the same division as Puerto Rico.  Crafty scheduling however would keep teams from having to travel too far in one night.

As for interleague play, this system would work with or without it.  It doesn’t force the league to have interleague play as the proposed 15-team league system does, but it still allows for it to be played if MLB chooses to keep the games.

While these changes are drastic and records would be affected if the regular season was shortened, if baseball wants to stay at the forefront of the American sports scene it will need to make sacrifices. 

Think about it, 70 years ago no one ever thought that boxing or horse racing would no longer be major sports in the U.S.


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